What’s the benefits of UCD and why should you use an iterative design method?
Is there any evidence to show that iterative design works? Clearly, using a ‘design-test-change-test’ process is going to be more expensive than a design method where the requirements are determined by the client and a designer churns out some wireframes.
This is because the principle of early and continual focus on users will therefore result in a useable product and it will deliver user satisfaction. But also, using a ‘design-test-change-test’ iterative cycle during a project improves task success, performance time and overall user satisfaction. UCD can additionally reduces the risk of an unuseable product ie one that is based on badly defined system requirements.
As technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, understanding user needs and contexts is essential when designing for multiple contexts of use and avoiding badly defined system requirements. When designing we now need to think about constraints such as designing for small screens, interruptions when using devices, and using gestures rather than a mouse and variable connectivity. Conversely, designing for smaller screens provides us with features – GPS, camera and microphone – that can be used to reduce the user’s workload.
But of course, design decisions are based on evidence, not opinions. In theory, this decision process should prevent stakeholders proposing unrealistic project goals (both user and technical) and helps focus decision-making on solving user problems and meeting their expectations. Avoiding costly features (that are more often than not proposed by senior stakeholders) that users do not require and/or cannot use can save considerable development time.
With user research methods such as contextual interviews and user testing, a designer can identify valuable insights and uncover opportunities. That is, user research can drive new product innovation by uncovering problems and creating novel design solutions or by simply adding value for the user.
Often, when conducting user testing sessions, a facilitator will ask a participant how they would improve a product to which the response is invariably, ‘make it more user-friendly’. On its own, this statement is pretty meaningless but having done some user testing, we are able to recognise latent user issues and articulate the phrase ‘user-friendly’.
Amending a prototype design is also cheaper than modifying a fully-coded design and if we let our design teams regularly observe users interacting with their design or a competitor’s design, we can gain empathy and learn the culture of use. Empathy is important for designers as it enables us to understand a user’s frustrations while appreciating how a user approaches a task, ie their user journey, we can understand how a product may fit into a user’s life.